A CONSERVATIVE MP whose constituency is facing a swathe of fracking proposals has hailed the Government for performing a double U-turn in banning the controversial practice on the surface of environmentally sensitive areas.

Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake said while he remained convinced of the benefits of the gas production method if it was implemented in a measured way, he was delighted Energy Secretary Amber Rudd had responded to mounting calls to prevent fracking rigs in protected areas, such as near Roseberry Topping.

The Government's move to launch a consultation over banning fracking rigs from protected areas, including Sites of Special Scientific Interest, marked its third policy change on the issue this year.

Plans for an outright ban in January were watered down weeks later to allow fracking firms to site rigs on the borders of the protected areas and drill beneath them before announcing in July that only national parks would be protected from the industry.

A coalition of conservation charities last month warned allowing fracking in the sensitive areas could have a "disastrous impact" on Roseberry Topping, as well as a rare grassland habitat at Brockadale, Little Smeaton, featuring magnesian limestone which only exists in a narrow band to Durham, and rare hay meadows near Helmsley.

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust united with the RSPB, Campaign for Protection of Rural England and the Campaign for National Parks after identifying 31 of its reserves were fully or partially within areas licensed or set to be licensed for shale gas exploration and extraction.

It also found 91 Sites of Special Scientific Interest in Yorkshire were within or intersecting with the fracking licensing blocks.

After revealing the latest policy change, political commentators said the Government had bowed to pressure from environmental groups and MPs, including Mr Hollinrake, whose work in highlighting the issue was praised by ministers.

Greenpeace said the ban fell short of protecting special scenery and nature reserves, as they could still be ringed by fracking rigs bringing light, air, water and noise pollution to areas that should be completely protected.

Mr Hollinrake said ministers had told him that there would be a licensing condition in all forthcoming petroleum exploration and development licences which will not allow fracking at the surface of new or existing wells in protected areas.

He said he also expected a policy statement to clarify that the Government would not approve any existing application for surface fracking in specific protected areas.